Mystery Cop Pulls Gun on Crowd of Anti-Police-Brutality Protesters

Dec 11, 2014 at 3:30 PM ET

Last night, with the Bay Area expecting its heaviest storm in five years, protesters once again marched in downtown Oakland, California, to condemn police brutality and the lack of indictments in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York. Though the beginning of the night was peaceful, a fight broke out shortly before midnight within the crowd. Initially, those tweeting about it thought it was simply infighting among the protesters, or an angry bystander who had been attacked.

The truth was much more unusual. The crowd has discovered two masked undercover officers. People tweeting at the scene allege that after being spotted, one officer pulled out his baton. At that point, a member of the crowd punched his fellow undercover officer. That officer then drew his gun and aimed it at the protesters. Conflicting accounts say one officer was assaulted, which caused the other officer to draw first his baton, then his gun.

Photos have also emerged of an undercover officer with his mask still on, arresting a member of the crowd:

The Oakland Police Department would only say, initially, that it was working with “other agencies” to respond, and that the officers pictured were not members of the OPD. It later clarified that the undercover officers were from the Califorinia Highway Patrol.

Police in large U.S. cities frequently use undercover officers at protests. The federal government has been expanding its use of undercover officers in recent years. Undercover police are typically used by police departments to gather intel on a crowd, identifying organizers or those involved in looting or vandalism. Once the undercover officers identify protesters for arrest, they communicate that information to uniformed police, who move in to make the arrest.

Undercover officers rarely get involved in altercations with marchers, and simply leave or move behind police lines if exposed. During Occupy Wall Street, protesters suspected local police of infiltrating marches in Oakland, Seattle, New York and Austin, Texas. Local police rarely confirm these accusations, but an officer in Oakland was outed in a video by CopWatch and later appeared in a video interview where he expressed support for some of the protesters’ goals.

In this case, some marchers allege that the undercovers were participating in or even instigating vandalism and looting.

It is possible that this is another case of miscommunication between government agencies, with one agency placing undercover officers in the crowd without informing the OPD. When discovered, the officers who would typically retreat behind police lines had nowhere to go because OPD was not aware of their presence. This could have led the officers to panic and fear for their safety, causing one officer to draw his weapon on a crowd of unarmed protesters marching against the unscrupulous use of guns by police.